Mums and asters: good companions for fall

Not a mum, but a truly worthy plant I found on the half off table a few years ago at TLC Nursery, Helianthus salicifolius ‘Table Mountain’

Yes, I know we’ve had a terrible summer, and it’s still hot. Even if you haven’t completely thrown in the trowel, it’s probably now buried somewhere in the garden of your frustration. In solidarity, I’ve been leaving my garden bucket outside every night to lure the rain.

And, yes, I started off with a perennial sunflower in the first photo, but I wanted you to see something bright and beautiful right off. Going to the fall nursery sales and picking up prairie flowers is a great way to fill in spots where lesser plants have died.

One of my many asters taken last fall. Can’t remember the cultivar.

Whether rain dances, lures or prayers to the Almighty worked, we got some rain. So, it’s now time to think about your fall garden. If you run to the local nursery and buy a few true perennial mums and asters, you’ll get bloom for fall, and much, much more next year.

Mums are a complicated group, and their names frequently change. Most are still listed in nursery catalogs as chrysanthemums, but others are now known under their newest botanical classification, Dendranthema. Unless you simply want color filler (and after this summer who doesn’t), don’t waste your time on D. X Grandiflorum, button mums and their pals.

Symphyotrichum laevis 'Bluebird
Symphyotrichum laevis ‘Bluebird

Instead, plant hardy garden mums and asters which return stronger every year. Try Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird,’ an aster with a complicated botanical name change, Dendranthema‘ Sheffield Pink, or C. pacificum, syn. Ajania pacifica which has leaves etched in silver and small, gold blooms.’ I grow all of these, and they never disappoint even in a terrible year.

Pacifica mum taken in October last year. It doesn’t bloom until November here, but look upon that foliage.

I confess I fell in love with both of these mums after reading about them in print in Fine Gardening magazine. The article is also online. Since then, I’ve tried to track down all of the varieties Bobbie Schwartz listed. The search hasn’t ended, but I’ve found some. I’m still on the hunt for C. x Rubellum ‘Will’s Wonderful.’ Heronswood has it, but I’m going to check locally before I have it shipped across the country. I noticed Plant Delights also has C. ‘Snow Dome’, a cross between pacifica mums and garden ones. Interesting.

‘Sheffield Pink’ mum photographed in my garden in last October.

Some of you will comment and tell me your button mums come back too. In the south, for many that’s true, but find a place in your garden for the true perennials. Combine these with prairie-happy natives and their kith and kin for a splendid fall show.

In the South this year, we desperately need plants for fall known as our “second spring.” In many gardens, plants just gave up and died due to heat stress and lack of water. So, in addition to mums, choose hardy natives and cultivars which can stand up to our brutal heat and cold. While looking for the mums and asters, ask about tough natives or cultivars created from these. With good drainage, Echinacea pallida, Helianthus angustifolius (narrow leaf sunflower), grasses, and Solidago spp., goldenrod, perform well in our harsh climate.

Solidago, goldenrod

Also, while I’m thinking about it, go ahead and deadhead the roses and other perennials. This gives them a chance to bloom again in September. Give them their last haircut.

Also, right now, plant green beans and summer squash if earlier crops failed. Start thinking about winter veggies too. Oklahoma State University has great tips for fall vegetable gardens. We may not get any tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean your garden is dead. With the rain we have a reprieve.

Fall is a time for second chances. I’m in, are you?



  1. Linda Vater says:

    Boy, am I ever, Dee!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I know. I can’t wait either.

  2. Hey Dee,
    I’ve grown both Sheffield Pink and pacifica with excellnt performance on both. I’m very interested in the Bluebird aster.

  3. Rose says:

    Wonderful advice, Dee! I have plenty of native asters and added some ‘October Skies’ after seeing them on several blogs last fall. But perennial mums would be a great addition for fall color. I confess to being one of those who gets enticed by the showy ones offered at garden centers everywhere each fall. Once in awhile, one of them comes back the next year, but most usually find their way to the compost pile eventually. Time to be more frugal and practical and add some of the cultivars you mentioned.

    So glad you finally got some rain! We had a much-needed shower yesterday, too. I think all the previous rains got stalled over Chicago:)

  4. Our weather has been so mild the last few days we turned off our A/C! Hooray! But of course the trade off was an earthquake and a hurricane this weekend. I also grow ‘Bluebird’ asters and ‘Shefield Pink’ mums. I just love them!! Sometimes when it seemed like not much was willing to bloom during our heat, I reminded myself of the fall show that’s yet to come. Your pictures are beautiful!

  5. RobinL says:

    Still no rain, huh? Has the heat at least eased up? It has here in central Ohio, and this year we have sufficient rain, so we’ve been blessed. I keep thinking I need those Sheffield Pink mums, but haven’t seen them locally. My neighborhood is called Sheffield, don’t you think I should? LOL

  6. Love all these fall things, but am just not there yet. Will begin having conversations about swamp sunflower and goldenrod sometime in late September! Your photos are getting me primed……

  7. Bluestem says:

    I hope Fall comes soon and brings some rain with it. I planted a couple of native asters for the first time last year. They are taking the heat and drought with no problems at all. I am concerned that the willowleaf aster, Symphyotrichum praealtum, may be a little too happy. I planted a 4 inch pot last year and this year it covers a four foot area. I even cut off all of the dead flowers last year because I was afraid they would reseed. All of the additional growth came up from the roots.

    You were in my mailbox today! I saw you in the Lowe’s Outdoor Living magazine. I think I have read your articles before, but it was the first time I made the connection to the red haired lady at Red Dirt Ramblings.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Hi Dee! Thank you for your comment on my blog. =) I too believe it was Angels and love the statement you made about our loved ones still loving us.! I’ve thought about it all day long.
    It’s funny…I’ve visited your blog before too, but can’t remember where from! But I’m off to follow it RIGHT NOW!! Hope your week is great!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rebecca, thanks for the visit and follow. I hope your week is blessed too.

  9. Gardener on Sherlock Street says:

    I’m in. I was busy pruning this weekend and I’m determined to keep everyone happily watered to give them a boost to perform for fall. Here’s to the “second spring.”

    1. Dee Nash says:

      For sure, let’s rejoice in second spring because the summer was worth cursing. In fact, I did curse a lot.

  10. Carol Samsel says:

    This has definitely been a difficult year for the gardens. We lost several plants that just couldn’t take the heat. I’ve been slowly adding natives over the past 3 years and those are about the only ones that remain vibrant .

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, it was the worst year I’ve ever had gardening, and I’ve garden since I was twenty or so outdoors. Before that, I grew indoor plants and did macrame hangers, but that’s another story. I’ve notice the natives outperformed many of the other plants. Gonna do a roundup soon.

  11. Melanie says:

    I planted some of the goldenrod a few years ago. .and I haven’t been disappointed yet!! I had to smile about being “in” for fall planting. .I found myself hauling home a blue atlas cedar last week after a couple nice little rains, and some temps below 100!! I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t fall QUITE yet!! Rein it in!! But I’m in. .bring it on!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Melanie, I didn’t know before a few years ago, but there are so many different types of goldenrod. I grow three or four kinds now, and some I like better than others. In the spring, I must rip a bunch of it out because it wants to smother everything else, but in fall, aaaaah, so beautiful. Also, a great plant for late summer pollinators. They cover it with kisses all day.

  12. Jenny B says:

    I’m with Cindy–I can’t even begin to think about planting right now. It feels like we will never have cool weather or rain again.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’m sorry Jenny. We’ve gotten some rain, and it’s a bit easier for us again. My prayers go out to where it’s still a drought stricken wasteland.

  13. Well I just love this posting. “Kith and kin” made me smile. Yes, on the prairie natives and a smattering of the true perennial mums. I am WILD for the native asters. We have lots of them here in Maine and I should plant more.

    Thinking of you and your greenhouse dreams,


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Love to you too. We need those hardy ones in our gardens don’t we?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, I’m glad you’re in, and I can’t wait to visit your garden this week. See you in Indy!

  14. Greggo says:

    moast dafinitely.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Glad to hear it. I hope y’all have been getting some of that great rain I see moving across the weather map.

      1. Greggo says:

        Thanks for commenting on my mornin glory post. Your very nice. Yes we are getting some of the isolated storms, but it’s still getting blazing hot. But that’s our climate isn’t it? Frigid colds and blazing heat. My water bill was atrocious for my small corner lot.

  15. You are so right talk about depressing out here in NW Okieland. I feel like I just wasted money this year planting and endlessly watering, whilst I sweated almost as much as I was pourinng the plants – god awful! And even worse we haven’t sat out once all summer, not even around dark, just TOO HOT!

    So not sure I can get motivated but still handy info for the future years to come.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh Sarah, it’s been even worse for you all in the northwest part of the state. No rain for forever, and you worked so hard. Do you have a drip irrigatio system? I fear it is a must anymore in our parched state, that and a deep well of both the water kind, and in our poor souls. I am motivated for fall, but I wish this infernal heat would stop.

  16. Jennie Brooks says:

    i’m not giving up. no way! all pretty but esp love that goldenrod.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hang in there Jenny. Come on over, and I’ll give you a piece of that goldenrod. I have tons of it. It’s a pretty thing.

  17. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have some great mums listed. I have a couple of mums but normally treat them as annuals. Like you say I stick them here and there for color. Asters don’t do well in my shady back garden. So I use them as annuals too. Have a great weekend Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Lisa, I bet in your garden you must treat them as annuals. I’m sorry about the lack of asters. Are you sure you’ve tried the native ones for your area? Many of mine are in at least partial shade. They do flop over some.

  18. Gail says:

    I adore native asters and can’t think of a plant that can survive our Middle South’s weather like them~Well, okay, other great fall blooming natives do! You’re so right this is a good time to plant hardy natives in those blank spots. I’ve several in the wings waiting to be planted when the weather cools just a bit. gail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Gail, it’s time to fill in the bare spots here and there, and boy, do I have them.

  19. the foliage on the Pacifica mum really caught my eye. I would like to find that one.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I found mine at Bustani, but I’m sure other good nurseries have them. Very pretty foliage. I’m not feelin’ the blooms much, but it doesn’t matter.

  20. I wonder if your 1st aster isn’t S. oblongifolius ‘October Skies’? I second your choices of S. laeve ‘Bluebird’ and the ‘Sheffield Pink’ mum. I grow both also, and they are outstanding. The only caveats I have about them is that deer love the former and, in my garden, both are plagued by potato beetles that ruin the blooms.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You know MMD, it might be. I think I had ‘October Skies’ at one time so probably. I love the others. I guess we don’t have much problem with deer because of the dogs. I don’t have many potato beetles either. Hmmm.

  21. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I’m avoiding the painful task of pondering what additional plants I must by to replace those that succumb to the umpteen days of awful we’ve experienced this summer. Maybe by mid-September I can think about it without crying!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’m so sorry Cindy. Yes, you have an additional month before things will cool down. Here, we’re going to break the record today or tomorrow for over 100F. I don’t know what else to say. I’m crying in solidarity with you my dear friend.

Comments are closed.